Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advice Column #29

Hey Bartender!
I live in a three bedroom apartment, and about four months ago we (my one roommate and I) got a new third roommate. We're all men in our early twenties, and my original roommate and I are straight. Our new roommate, a rather attractive man, spends most weekend nights hanging out with his "best friend", a really nice dude. His bf stays over often, and I'm fairly sure that they're dating, but his bf sleeps on the sofa. I think he does this so the other roommate and I won't notice that he's gay. My other roommate said he saw them kiss once, but they didn't know he was home. We don't care though. In fact, we really like his bf, and think it's strange that he hasn't come out to us, or that he would make his lover sleep on the sofa instead of in his bed. We also think the secrecy is causing tension between them. How do we tell our roommate that we're obviously not bothered by his gayness, and get him to feel comfortable enough to let his bf sleep in his room?

I wish I didn't know any gay men who felt like they had to live a charade, not just with the people who they didn't know, but for the people who were very close to the intimacies in their lives. I've been told that it's just not anyone else's business, and that no one ever had to tell anyone they were straight, then wait for the shocking gasp or the confused look, or worse. Your roommate might not care to tell you, or might not want to handle your reaction or questions. Sometimes breaking the good news to bad people makes the whole situation worse. You're not the bad kind of people to tell things to, so maybe you need to break the news. I think you need to skip the part where you expect your roommate to sit you down and tell you he's gay, waiting for you to tell him that's ok. He probably won't ever do that. You are right in wanting him to feel comfortable. Having anyone uncomfortable in a three bedroom apartment forces everyone to feel on edge, expecially when there's an elephant in the room.

Before you ask him to go clothes shopping with you, or what happened on the L-word this week, try to talk to him like you'd talk to any of your other friends about their relationships. Ask him how he met his bf. Respond like you would respond to any straight dudes talking about a lady in their lives, except don't ask about boobs (this will be good practice for your general ability to talk about feelings, not gear). Give aloof approval and talk about how bf is a cool dude and he looks really happy when they're hanging out. Hope for a look of agreement, but be ready to get the look he fears most when he tells people he's gay. He probably invented that look.

On another occasion, if he still hasn't started letting bf sleep in his room, address the real elephant in the room. Don't have a sit down talk, do it with a side glance. The most macho men I know have perfected this mention and drop strategy of talking about feelings. Generally I don't employ it, but it would work here. While playing a video game, ask him if he wants to take player two. (Or create some similar situation where you're both distracted with something else, but hanging out.) Ask him, nonchalantly, why his bf is always in the doghouse.

Advice Column #28

Hey Bartender!

I'm a woman in my mid-twenties, and one of my best girl friends from college lives in the same city where I've been living since college. At first, I was really excited that she had moved here, I mean, she's my girl. When she moved here, she quickly found a boyfriend and explored town with him, so I didn't feel like I had to be the tour guide. When they broke up months later, she hadn't made any new friends besides him and his friends, and was totally crushed. Obviously I was there for her.

Since the break up, she refuses to go to any of the fun parts of town because the places "reminded her of him" or she thinks she'll run into him. I put up with the lame places she wanted to hang out with almost without complaint, even though it's really far away from where I live, and a hassle for me to get there. Lately, my life has started to get more complicated and demanding, and my friend keeps getting mad at me. She never asks about what is going on with me, but insists I'm avoiding her by not wanting to trek over to the places she frequents. When I ask her to meet me mid-way, at places literally halfway between our respective domiciles, she gets angry protesting "you know he hangs out around there!" or "but we went there when we were together!". Even our phone conversations have become all about her.

I'm tired of giving all the time. Am I a bad friend because I don't want to cater to her every need even though she's still upset about her break up? How long does she get amnesty for her behavior? Oh, what do I do to stop this? Please, help me get my friend back.

You are not a bad friend because you have your own life and needs. It sounds like the two of you are in a really bad dynamic right now. Just because she's upset about some boy doesn't mean she gets to walk all over you, and certainly does not mean she gets to dictate how you spend your time. She's taking you for granted, big time, and you're letting her. Just because she acts like a big baby, doesn't mean you have to coddle her. As for her amnesty, I'd say she gets to be needy and upset for a month for every year the relationship lasted. Then you have to cut the cord.

Put your foot down. Tell her she's letting this break up affect her too much, that the time for wallowing in sadness and avoiding the fun part of town is over. She needs to be out in the world, and needs to re-associate those places with new fun memories. By standing up for yourself in this friendship, you're also going to force her to react to her actual relationships, not the ones that are finished. When people are reacting only to pain, they often retreat to their childhood reactions to similar pain. Her selfishness isn't about what she needs now, but about what she needed as a child. You gave her a reasonable response to this need to be nurtured, and now, as her real-life adult friend, you need to bring her back to reality. The reality is that she needs to live her life, and so do you. So she can either toast to happiness with you, or you'll toast alone.

With regards to the phone conversations being all about her, you need to interject. She's being careless about your feelings, and is overwhelming you with her own. When nothing constructive is being done by talking about the break-up, it really is great to help her think about something else, and let her forget things that are painful. Sometimes you have to lead her to the right behavior- like talking about you, and the many things going on in your life. If she's not asking, you just need to tell her what's going on, and ask her for opinions about your problems. If she turns it back to a conversation about her, you need to bring it back to you again. Insist she return to the present tense, and not drag you through these memories and her feelings about that boy. When you call her the next time, don't ask "how are you?" but ask "how was your day?". Make her focus on things that are happening now, not how she's handling her drawn-out sadness.

You need to be a little ruthless, and get her out of this broken record of violin tunes. Demand that she meet you at his favorite bar. The time has come. Say you're reclaiming territory. If he's there, give him the head nod then ignore him. Make her remember how fun she was before he stepped in and muddled her heart. If there's a jukebox, use it. Tell the bartender that you demand two whiskey smashes to refresh your fighting spirit. Tell your friend that her heart is the size of her fist, and her fist should be holding some whiskey. In the end, if you're anything like me, the whiskey smash will probably make you giggle more than fight, but it's worth ordering like you are a pirate in an enemy port. If nothing else, the charade will amuse your friend, and make her see that her fears were unfounded. That boy doesn't matter, and he can't keep you away from a good drink. A whiskey smash is made deliciously with Rye bourbon, some simple syrup, muddled lemon and mint, and served over crushed or cracked ice in a low glass. Also, if you're a hulkamaniac, well, you'll know what to do.

Advice Column #27

Hey Bartender?
My most recent boyfriend was one and a half times my age (24, 36) and during the course of our relationship, I convinced myself that I needed to be with someone significantly older than me due to my abnormal level of maturity (ha!). Now I've met someone who's my age who's wonderful, adorable, and makes me feel like a giddy kid with a new toy that I want to play with all the time. Should I be afraid he's going to ultimately be too immature and hurt me or should I just let myself be happy again?

When given the choice to enjoy your life or tear it to shreds with worry: always choose enjoy. Who knows what this new boy will be like, but right now, it's working well for you. If it stops working for you, then you get to decide if you want to work on the relationship or start over again. That fork in the road is not for a while.

As for the dating older men to reflect your maturity, I have a few words on the subject. Women who date older men are often looking for a man who grew into a type of person that the girl also wants to grow into. Sadly, the men are often looking for someone who they can eclipse. When you're young, try to choose a partner who has similar goals, or dreams of life, as you do- not one who is already living your dream or has already become the person you want to be. One of the greatest joys of love is knowing that as you grow, your partner will grow with you, and you can build your life together. These older-younger relationships often fail because the girl finds herself growing in a different direction than she planned to, or the man wanted someone who was not going to become more like the people he already knew. They're ultimately unsatisfying.

As you are now young, and with someone who makes the world sparkle, be happy. If you're worried about being with the wrong sweetheart, settle your tummy with some words: talk about your future, the far off distant kind of future, twenty years from now- do you both envision life going towards the same horizon? Do you want the same kind of things, adventures, houses, children? Find out all this stuff, and make sure you both share goals. As a team, you can achieve whatever you can imagine, but only if those dreams don't clash. Sure, there's always a little bit of compromise, but make sure the big picture is similar.

I would suggest that you have this conversation on a rooftop, with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, on a summer night. You should make some strawberry iced tea in the afternoon. Before you climb up to the roof, new lover trailing you, muddle two (not chocolate covered) strawberries with a spoonful of sugar in a shaker, add 3 ounces of gin, a hefty dash of lemon bitters (preferably Fee Brother's Lemon Bitters), and fill the shaker 2/3 of the way with iced tea. Shake it like you mean it. Pour into two glasses, with some ice. Eat the chocolate covered strawberries and toast to the happiness in life. You'll get there, together, by choosing to enjoy life whenever possible, by licking the melting chocolate off your fingertips, and by growing together through all the adventures that await you.

Advice Column #26

Dear Bartender:

My fiance and I live in a building with a backyard that we share with our neighbor, who we'll call Constantine. Constantine frequently hosts BBQ's in the back yard, which we are very happy to attend and also help facilitate. There are 4 other apartments in our building, and there is one neighbor (we'll call him Ajax) that seems to take issue with these gatherings. This past week Ajax started an altercation with Constantine in the backyard, which pretty much killed the party. Ajax felt that 12:30 on a Saturday was late enough for people to be making noise. Keep in mind that these BBQ's may have a lot of people, but there is never any loud music, and no yelling or loud talking. I can't even hear them from our ground floor apartment when the windows are closed. There are also roughly ten other apartments that have windows onto the backyard, and no one has ever complained about the noise. How can we calm this neighbor and keep on having our awesome bbq's?

It is so hard to stay inside on a hot summer night, especially when you have a luxurious backyard. Living in close proximity to so many people often means choosing between their needs and yours. What makes for a sense of community, however, is the ability to find compromises that satisfy both parties. In the end, at least where I live in New York, unless the police can hear the noise from the front of the building, you're totally allowed to keep on rockin' out. Being technically right isn't going to help the relations of the apartment building, and might start some kind of tenant war that will ruin your summer. I think you need to offer an olive branch here, or at least some drink with sprigs of mint.

It sounds to me that your neighbor is feeling left out. Unless there are little kids up there, his Saturday midnight curfew is probably a reflection of a dwindling social life which is highlighted by the parties he hears but can't attend. I think you should invite him to the next bbq. You shouldn't post a flyer in the hallway, or yell up to him at midnight that he could join you. You should make a real honest to goodness invitation, and slip it under his door a few days in advance. Then, the day of the garden party, you should knock on his door and remind him that you would really love to share his company at the party, and does he have a bbq preference? Why go to all this trouble? Because you're actively including him in the party- which, if he takes the bait, will let him know that you aren't throwing parties to alienate him, or annoy him, and that you do try to keep the noise down to a reasonable volume. If he feels included, he won't harbor so much resentment for a normal level of neighborly noise.

Sprigs of mint, you say? Oh yes, every summer is made better by the plethora of fresh mint available. If you thought ahead, you'd already have a garden teeming with varieties of the herb. If not, you might want to go to a local farm or plant supply warehouse and buy some bushy plants of the Kentucky Colonel mint variety- the classic julep mint. Apple mint is also a great variety to freshen up drinks. When you plant mint, make sure you plant it in a garden with borders, or it'll take over all adjacent areas. I've often thought of it as a fine alternative to grass (who's going to mow the mint this week?), but few agree with me on that point. The obvious answer is to make some juleps. They're perfect for summer, and perfect for cook-outs. Now, classically, we'd mix sugar, crushed ice, bourbon, and add a few sprigs of mint for aroma. I think we need to amp it up for your party. After all, summer is about fresh options, not clinging to the classics. Let's give your bbq guests some choices, and get that stressed out neighbor loosened up with a frosty glass.

I think you should prepare several kinds of simple syrup, and put them in different small pitchers (not glasses, but vessels from which you can pour- decanters, creamers, even a gravy boat with a sizable ladle will work). Simple syrup, a solution of sugar water (generally equal parts sugar and water), is a staple of summer cocktails. Hours before the party (or even the day before), boil enough water to fill your tiny pitchers, and stir in about 3/4 that amount of sugar. Take that very sweet, hot syrup and pour it into the many containers. In one container, have fresh mint leaves (making a strong mint tea). In another, have black tea leaves and some spices (think strong chai without the latte). A third could have fresh peeled lemon or orange waiting for the syrup. Essentially, go wild with these syrups. Make them sweet and flavorful, label them, chill them for a few hours, and place them on a tray that can be taken outside to the garden party's table. A bucket of ice, and a bucket of crushed ice, should flank the syrups. Add a bottle or two of seltzer water and a few bottles of bourbon and gin, you're fancy drink bar is nearly complete. The sprigs of fresh mint should be standing in a glass of water, and a little tray of lemon and lime wedges, and other small fruits (like berries) will complete the array. Let your guests make their own drinks, and mingle with your party-killing neighbor. Soon everyone will forget about the heat and the trespasses on their quietude.

If this doesn't work, let the neighbor complain to the landlord, or move out. At least you'll know you've tried to make amends. If you give it your best shot (and a tray of prepared homemade simple syrups is a great deal of effort), that's all anyone can ask. After the neighbor explodes, or leaves, get some of your friends to move into the previously offended apartment and throw bigger parties, together. It's summer; we all need to relax a little.

Advice Column #25

Hey Bartender!
I'm in my mid-twenties, and currently have a job that offers me an opportunity to work for a cause I believe in, extends me incredibly freedom and flexibility in terms of hours and location of work and provides me a steady income. Trouble is the steady income is substantially less than what I know I'm worth and the lack of structure is starting to get to me. Do I need to find a 9-5?

It sounds like you have a sweet gig, and if the steady income can afford your preferred lifestyle, and you're happy, then stick with it for a while. Give yourself a time limit to this bliss, so you can leave gracefully before you begin to resent the cause. Sometimes we have to put our own goals before our idealistic vision, but sometimes we can afford to wait on that move. The time limit isn't a quitting date, but a re-evaluation date. In one year, or on each yearly anniversary of when you began this job, you should think about your life goals. If the job is helping you achieve these goals and offering you career growth, stick with it another year. If not, then you need to begin looking for a different situation.

As with any job, you want to make sure that you plan for your future by putting at least 10% of your income into a retirement account. If you're making far less than you're currently worth, you might want to look into a Roth IRA, because you'll be paying more in taxes later in your life, when you make what you're worth. I would suggest vanguard, which has a variety of low-cost IRA accounts available. Use this lower tax period of your life to your advantage. I'm no financial planner, just a bartender, so ask your accountant friend about that plan.

Right now, you have to decide to enjoy your life in its current incarnation. The stress of our lives is often caused by wanting more than we already have, or thinking we're not getting our due. It's incredibly hard to ignore these impulses and just enjoy ourselves. The anxiety we harbor by expecting ever more of ourselves can be a useful motivator, but must be curbed when we make decisive choices to live pleasantly for a while. You don't need a 9-5 right now, you need to stop worrying about keeping up with people you don't care about. You need a drink, some laughs, and that glimmer in the sparkle of your eye that says you're living your life right now. This time, this flexible less-structured time, is the time you're going to look back at when you have that 9-5, and you better be able to say you spent it well. Don't regret missing your twenties because you were too concerned with starting your thirties. Sure, make responsible decisions: have a retirement account, pay your bills on time, work somewhere that encourages growth and doesn't offend you, try not to live in excesses. Take some risks too. The job that cannot pay you top dollar could make you feel really good about yourself and your work. The extra flexible time can let you travel- before you have a house and a family to take care of. Or you can stay in your apartment and work on the projects that you'll never have time for again. Take the chances now, when you can, before you run out of opportunities to make great stories of your life.

You don't have to ask me for permission to avoid the corporate grind for a little while, but you do have to give yourself permission. It's your life, to live as you see fit, by your own expectations and allowances. Your parents, teachers, professors, and peers no longer can tell you what you want, you have to figure it out. Have fun. It's worth it, and so are you. As for those drinks? I'd suggest, for your itinerant life of adventure, either the Fisherman's Brew Lager from Cape Anne brewery, or the Cisco Whale's Tale from Massachusetts. Why? Because I recently came back from a relaxing weekend on the north shore of Massachusetts, an escape from the heat, and at those stormy seaside bars I thought about the mounting anxiety all the late-twenty-year-olds I know have about their jobs, and about you, and how we all need to just relax for a minute. So have a beer, and live happily. Stop worrying so much. It's going to be fine. Cheers!

advice column #24

Hey Bartender!

I'm getting married in the fall to a wonderful girl that I'm very much in love with. However, I'm having increasing tensions with her mother. Her mom is well intentioned, but a little over the top a lot of times. She's trying to help but winds up causing more issues than she solves. For Example, I mentioned once that I liked Apple Cider, and her mom had a case of sparkling cider special- delivered to me about a week later. There were two issues here- 1: The logistics of getting the cider delivered was a hassle for myself and my landlord and 2: It was more cider than I could possibly drink, and a lot of it just got thrown out.

Essentially, she has good intentions but does not really pay attention to what other people want, and I feel like I (and others around her) spend their time trying to manage whatever it is she's throwing at us.

Her personality really does not vibe well with mine and I have a hard time being patient with her. How can I communicate to her that I know she has the best of intentions, she really needs to just leave me alone most of the time?

The most important thing to do, when you are frustrated with your partner's parents, is to find in them qualities that you love about your partner. When you think about Mom-in-law, think about the qualities that you love in your wife, and remember how happy you are to have in your life the woman who taught your wife these qualities. Marriage is about family, and the way you begin the relationship with your wife's mom will effect the way your family interacts with her for the rest of your life. Start off with a little more understanding, and your patience will grow.

Despite our best efforts, we all carry around the programming that our parents gave us- and react to things as we've been taught to react to them. Eventually, you're going to encounter this same behavior in your wife, so figuring it out now will make it easier for you later. Think for a moment about what Mom-in-law is doing. Is she welcoming you to the family? Is she trying to show you that she cares for you? Or is she trying to drive you insane with cases of cider? It's most likely that she doesn't mean harm with her gifts, and that she needs to be assured that you feel welcome and know she cares about you. Telling her to "leave you alone" will not work, and will cause a huge rift as you rebuff what she thinks is a welcoming and giving spirit. If you can peremptorily assure her that you feel welcome- or whatever emotional message she's trying to send along with the cider- she might not feel the need to repeatedly assert these welcomes.

Also, teach her how to get the result she wants from you in the way that you find awesome. Maybe your family doesn't give gifts, but goes to dinner together or plays badminton in the yard or whatever you do. Explain to her the different manifestations of emotional vocabulary and ask her to participate in your variety. She might just be modeling behavior for you, and you need to pick up on her clues and respond to her. Say in a toast at a pre-wedding function, "I've been happy to learn lately that in-law family likes to welcome new people with often complicated gift giving. I hope that while I learn the traditions and customs of your family, you can also learn the traditions and customs of my family, so as your daughter and I create our own family, everyone can be included!" Givers tend to want to learn, and are usually happy to try something new, but never happy to do nothing. You have to give her something else to do, or you will offend her. Redirect her good intentions toward some goal that you find good. Accept that she wants to be in your life, as she's excited to have you in hers. Remember, you need to learn the emotional language of your wife's family as much as they need to learn yours, and taking the first step could be your responsibility, and joy. If nothing else, it'll be a big emotional step that your wife would appreciate, and will help set an example for inter-family relations.

As for other incidents, you said the Mom-in-law was trying to help. Great, you have a huge wedding to deal with, with tons of guests you might not know and details you might not care about. Delegate. Ask her to check that everyone in her family has lodging arrangements and travel arrangements. Ask her if she would throw a bridesmaid luncheon or a morning after brunch for the family or a bridesmaid shower a few months before the actual wedding. Give her things to do, so she'll stay out of the things that you don't want her involved in. Remember to thank her for all her help, because she loves those who are gracious for the help she gives them- whether they want it or not. Make her feel really included by asking for her input and guidance, even if you don't really need it. Make her feel as welcome as she's trying to make you feel. I think one of the best things you can do for yourself when getting married, is buy a box of thank you cards, and send them out liberally to people who are trying to help.

Another thing you need realize before your wedding is that you're about to marry into a family of givers (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and you better stock that gift registry with things for them to get you. If you don't want things, you need to set up an account for donations (explain that you're saving up for a house), pick some charities, make a list of restaurants you would like gift certificates to, make a list of museums you'd want memberships to, ask for donations of airplane miles or travel gift certificates, but you have to tell them what you find acceptable or you will end up with more cases of cider than you could ever handle. As much as you love your fiance, you need to put in the effort to make sure that you can redirect the energy that her family can't help but give. You can't change them, but you can peremptorily annul the stress by managing them before they throw impossible things at you. This is really important for your relationship, your marriage, and your future. These people are now a part of your life, and you need to know how to make that positive for you.

I've thought about giving you recipes for punch with cider, or drinks with cider, but what I think you really need to drink is some whiskey and cider. While I think any bottle of maker's mark can give you a decent mixed drink, I'm going to list you a bunch of whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches that you might consider adding to your registry. Let the givers restock your bar, and set a price mark for your tastes that discourages them from doing it so frequently as to drive you to drink. Remember, you want single malt, single barrel, and the older is usually the better (aim for at least 15 year aged). If I were to make a short list, it would include Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Talisker, and Aberlour. I'd probably put a bottle of Pikesville rye too, but that's just me being sentimental.